A Swiss official has said that the extradition of a fugitive Czech businessman, Tomáš Pitr, sentenced to five years for tax fraud and mismanagement of property in the Czech Republic, could take up to a year. A spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry made the statement on Thursday, a day after the Czech was taken into custody in St Moritz. Mr Pitr had been in hiding since 2007, when he failed to begin his jail sentence. Earlier this year, the 39-year-old received an additional six-year sentence in absentia for fraud and mismanagement of property that caused damage exceeding 700 million crowns to a number of state-controlled companies. Switzerland has called on Czech authorities to provide an official request for Pitr's extradition and the Czech Justice Ministry is expected to do so on Thursday. Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil, meanwhile, said he believed there was a fifty/fifty chance extradition would be successful.
In related news, the justice minister has told reporters he will dismiss the head of the Czech Prison Service, Luděk Kula, as well as introduce a comprehensive audit and reform the Czech prison system. He made the comments on Thursday also saying that 40 percent of employees in the Prison Service’s General Directorate would be let go. The current head Luděk Kula, will be replaced by Jiří Tregler, the director of a prison in Pardubice, east Bohemia, in the interim.
Also on Thursday, the new justice minister revealed that he was cancelling a tender on an electronic surveillance system monitoring prisoners under house arrest. The minister indicated problems in the current tender (above all that it would allow a data bank on prisoners’ information to be owned and held by a private company) were unacceptable; he said only the state should have access to such details. A new tender on the surveillance system could now be called by the end of September.
Prague’s place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites will not be threatened despite questions hanging over the city’s handling of renovations to the historic Charles Bridge or over the construction and impact of the new Blanka tunnel, Czech Radio reported. UNESCO representatives visited the Czech capital back in January to look at projects underway and to meet with local officials. A report based on their findings, the spokesman for the Culture Ministry said, recommended that Prague adopt clear rules overseeing the construction of new high-rise buildings; inspectors in the report also expressed regret that proper documentation and studies weren’t conducted in advance of renovation of the landmark Charles Bridge. However, Czech Radio reported, there is no danger of Prague being struck off the list of World Heritage sites. The World Heritage Committee has been meeting in Brasilia since Sunday to review the status of current members as well as to present new additions.
The Environment Ministry will earmark four billion crowns from the EU subsidies for the improvement of air quality in the Moravian-Silesian region, the Environment Minister Pavel Drobil said in Ostrava on Thursday. Mr Drobil also said he and the Ostrava officials would like to negotiate with major local polluters, namely local steel works and others. The city of Ostrava has also proposed possible solutions - measures, which would cost some 28 billion crowns which would tackle all three sources of pollution: large companies, transport and heating facilities. One of the largest polluters in the region, ArcelorMittal Ostrava steel works, has already cooperated with the Environment Ministry representatives, its CEO said, stressing that this year the company has taken steps to lowering emissions. The industrial and coal-mining area around Ostrava and Karviná is one of the most polluted areas not only in the Czech Republic but also in Central Europe.
The daily newspaper Právo reports that police have reopened the case of Jiří Kajínek, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for murder. According to the paper, the police have already spent several months investigating whether the 1993 murder of a businessman and his bodyguard, for which Mr Kajínek was controversially sentenced, may have been committed by police officers. The investigation is apparently based on recorded conversations of the individual accused of actually ordering the killings, which allegedly say nothing about Mr Kajínek but rather attest to police involvement. Jiří Kajínek has always maintained his innocence and gained a great deal of media attention when he escaped from prison on two occasions.
More than 300 Czech tourists were left stranded at airports in Brno and Burgas, Bulgaria, when a return charter flight from the Czech Republic failed to depart on Wednesday due to a technical fault. Around 100 spent the night at Burgas airport while others transferred to a hotel, the spokesman for the Association of Czech Tour Operators and Agencies Tomio Okamura said. Central Charter Airlines, the company in question, commissioned two extra planes to deal with the situation. According to EU regulations individual airlines – and not tour operators – carry responsibility for flight delays and flight cancelation, Mr Okamura said.
The commercial real estate advisor CB Richard Ellis has revealed that rented commercial or retail space in the Czech capital is the 32nd highest in the world but still seven times cheaper, for example, than in Manhattan. Boutique stores at prime locations in the city pay an average of two thousand and forty euros per square metre per year (the equivalent of around 50,000 crowns or 2,600 US dollars). By comparison, the figure in New York is 13,744 euros. The most expensive streets to rent on in the Czech capital include Na Příkopě, Pařížská and the lower half of Wenceslas Square, CB Richard Ellis real estate expert Tomáš Beránek said. On the list of world rankings, New York, which finished top, is followed by Sydney and Hong Kong. London ranked fourth.
Former foreign minister and member of European Parliament Josef Zieleniec is reportedly planning a return to politics, the Czech newspaper Právo has claimed, although Mr Zieleniec himself has so far denied any such move. According to the daily, Mr Zieleniec – who was foreign minister from 1992 to 1997 and euro MP until last year - will reportedly run for newcomers Public Affairs. Zieleniec is a former member of the Civic Democratic Party who later ran for the European Democrats in the country’s first election to European Parliament after the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004. Public Affairs, meanwhile, have not commented the story other than saying they will release new information next week.
The court in Ústí nad Labem has sentenced two men to eight and eight-and-a-half years behind bars for the murder of an elderly woman last November. The duo – aged 18 and 17 – killed the 80-year-old woman in her backyard as she brandished a machete to try and get them to depart. She was hit and fatally wounded by one of the two who was carrying a metal rod. Inside her home, the two stole 70 crowns (the equivalent of around four US dollars), clothes pins, a bag, a knife sharpener and a padlock. The two men can still appeal the court’s decision.